Curtis (comic strip)
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|Launch date||October 3, 1988|
|Syndicate(s)||King Features Syndicate|
Curtis is a nationally syndicated comic strip written and illustrated by Ray Billingsley, with a predominantly African American cast. The comic strip started up on October 3, 1988, and it's also syndicated by King Features.
The strip mostly involves the title character, Curtis, getting in trouble at home and school, trying in many attempts to make his father, Greg, quit smoking (a storyline which earned Billingsley the American Lung Association's President's Award in 2000), trying to win the heart of aspiring diva singer Michelle and stuffing his face.
Curtis will often fantasize at school (rather than paying attention to his teacher, Mrs. Nelson) about his favorite superhero, "Supercaptaincoolman" (a superhero who is constantly defending the city against the insidious schemes of the evil "Doctor Horsehead").
Once a year, up through the 2012-2013 holiday season and again in the 2015-2016 season, Billingsley has Curtis and the gang take a hiatus one day after Christmas (or first Monday after Christmas, if Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday) and focus on a special two-to-three week inspirational story to celebrate the Festival of Kwanzaa. Also, around the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, the strip will discuss some aspect of Dr. King's life. The month of February is also dedicated to Black History Month, in which Mrs. Nelson assigns her class to write about various African-American figures in history.
Curtis featured Dagwood of the Blondie comic as part of the 75th anniversary celebration for Blondie. Unlike Dennis the Menace, Hi and Lois, B.C., Family Circus or Baby Blues, the other comic strips that participated in the anniversary crossover, Curtis took an extended storyline lasting from August 29 to September 3, like Hägar the Horrible. Curtis was also featured in the 75th Anniversary strip on September 4.
Characters and story
- Curtis Wesley Wilkins - Main character, an 11-year-old boy. A rap fan with a huge crush on a girl named Michelle. He has a huge appetite and a talent for getting himself into trouble. Prior to 2020, he always wore an oversized green cap backwards and perched at an angle on the back of his head; according to the storyline, he got it at a young age from his father. In 2020, Michelle gave him a smaller green cap as a gift and he has worn that one ever since.
- Barry Taylor Wilkins - Curtis's younger brother. Often likes to annoy and outsmart Curtis. Their parents consider Barry to be the more trustworthy of the two, while Curtis usually sees him as a brat. He whines when he has to eat his vegetables and has no qualms about mashing Curtis to a pulp when called on to do it. Also earns merit awards, which makes Curtis jealous. Barry has an imaginary friend named Oogie, who is green, has one eye, is about Barry's size, and likes to eat vegetables.
- Greg Wilkins - Curtis's father. Works at the DMV and hates his job. He and Curtis are regularly at odds over their tastes in music (Curtis likes rap and hip-hop, and Greg can't stand it, preferring Motown), among other things (see below).
- Diane Wilkins - Curtis's mother. A housewife, she tends to get irritated by Curtis's antics, but is always supportive of him when he has a problem. Originally sporting an afro, Diane has received two different hairstyle makeovers over the years. The last one of these made Derrick and "Onion" think that Greg was having an affair. Diane and Greg met when they were featured dancers on Soul Train.
- Mrs. Nelson - A middle-aged, overweight teacher. Since Curtis is the class joker, she doesn't get along very well with him. He does however do well when he makes an effort and when he thanks her for giving him a good grade, she tells him he earned it. She also tells his mother good things about him at the parent-teacher conferences. In 2020, Mrs. Nelson tested positive for COVID-19 but recovered.
- Michelle Grant - A girl whom Curtis likes, even though she is two years older. Her father is rich. Considered self-centered (and egotistical) by most of the other characters, she only likes Curtis as a friend (although it may prove otherwise since whenever Curtis greets her, she always gives him an annoyed look) and discourages his attempts to date her (though she did finally agree to do so in a June–July 2007 series). She is an excellent singer and hopes to become a famous star, currently starring in energy drink commercials. In a weeklong series of strips starting November 30, 2009 she tells Curtis she was in a Super Fiber Chux cereal commercial at age three, and that her first role in a TV series would have been on "The Muppet Show" had Miss Piggy not felt threatened by her. In the October 10, 2007 strip, it is revealed that Michelle has a mother who has been admitted to rehab for treatment due to her problems with drug addiction.
- Chutney Devoe - A girl who likes Curtis. Curtis only sees her as a friend, while he chases after Michelle. However that may prove otherwise: in an early 2011 strip, Curtis finds Chutney with another guy, whom Curtis suspects is her boyfriend. That being said, Curtis tries to find out for himself, fearing that her new relationship with him will strongly affect their friendship. He finds that the guy is in fact one of her relatives who came to visit her family for a little while.
- Gunk - Curtis's cross-eyed Caucasian best friend. A native of the fictional Flyspeck Island, Gunk (an initialism for Gladimus Umfred Nostradamus Klaustauvicke) often gives some bizarre item to Curtis, with disastrous results (most often a chameleon). One of his quirks is his refusal to fight anybody, but he also is cat-like in his moves to avoid his nemesis's punches, because as he says afterwards, "Just because I won't fight you doesn't mean I'm going to let you hit me."
- Gunther - Runs the Soul Scissors Barber Shop. Asked if Gunther is his first or last name, he replies, "Yeah." Never gets Curtis' name right (but at least every attempt either starts with a "C" or a hard "C" sound), and who claims to know nearly every famous person (and who has photos – but always with a thumb covering the famous person).
- Rose Petal, niece of Gunther, who enjoys singing, but she gets fired from every gig she enters, because she has a foul mouth and a really bad attitude. She refuses to work for money she needs to "pay for her rent" (although it is revealed that she really needs the money to party), and ultimately, Gunther throws her out of his shop, demonstrating "tough love". She responds with profanity. According to Curtis, she thinks the world owes her.
- Derrick - A bully. He and his friend, "Onion", make fun of Curtis by calling him "Wimpkins" and using "yo momma jokes", and on occasion physically harass him (in one series, they attempted to falsely accuse him of criminal activity). Curtis attempts to avoid them as much as possible. Gunk, Chutney and others have helped Curtis against the bullying of Derrick and "Onion". In a late 2010 strip, Derrick has a girlfriend named Veranda, who has an attitude like him and "Onion".
- "Onion" - Derrick's friend and fellow bully to Curtis. His real name is Norman, but is self-nicknamed "Onion" for being able to "bring tears to a sucker's eyes", although Curtis once exclaimed that it was "probably because he stunk".
- "Ms. Honeystump" - Curtis's summer-school teacher. The gag is that she's attractive, and therefore distracting to the students.
- "Mr. Kwame" - Michelle's Teacher whom she is madly in love with. The gag is while Curtis fawns over her in his presence she completely ignores his passes while dreaming about him.
- "Heart-Throb" - An overweight friend of Curtis whose real name is Anthony Caldwell. He is polite and tells adults what they want to hear but doesn't mean what he says.
- "Tiny" - Gunther's very large nephew who everyone believes is going to college on a football scholarship but is really receiving an academic scholarship and studying to be a lawyer.
- Barry is almost always listening in on either phone or live conversations between Curtis and Michelle which annoys Curtis. A frequent running gag in the strip, each time this happens it starts with Barry saying something offensive about Michelle, which causes Curtis to chase after him. Barry runs to Diane, saying "Mama, Curtis is trying to hit me for no good reason!" Curtis responds by saying "Don't fall for his 'innocent little boy' routine, Mom," and begins to explain what Barry did. More often that not, Diane does not believe Curtis and usually gives Barry ice cream to calm him while scolding Curtis and sending him off to do chores. On a couple of occasions, Barry even confesses to having listened to the conversations (asking what does a certain phrase mean, or even offering to repeat what Curtis said). This prompts questions from some over whether Diane properly punishes him for lying and eavesdropping.
- Greg Wilkins is a heavy smoker, a habit he picked up in childhood and has apparently little desire to break as it apparently helps him cope with life. Curtis is not happy with his father's smoking and tries at various points to make him quit, including by trying to shame him for having to stop at the grocery store in the rain with no umbrella just so he could purchase cigarettes (which backfires when Greg tells Curtis the purpose of the trip was to buy liver for dinner, which Curtis hates) and by purposely breaking his cigarettes in front of Greg, which causes him to chase Curtis around the house.
- Another recurring theme involves Curtis' favorite comic book superhero Supercaptaincoolman. The strip reads like a comic book in most part where Supercaptaincoolman engages in many types of adventures in his daily struggle to rid the world of his arch nemesis, The Evil Dr. Horsehead. But just as the action is about to heat up, the third to last panel suddenly shows Ms. Nelson shouting, "Mr. Wilkins!!" as she catches Curtis reading his comics while he is supposed to be paying attention in class while he gulps and says "Ms. Nelson!" He immediately tries to get out of the situation by lying. The last panel shows Curtis being sent to the principal's office as punishment for reading comic books in class.
- Once in a while, Curtis and Barry, just before church services begin, will observe ladies coming in wearing elaborate hats on their heads. Curtis will promptly make jokes about each hat they are wearing as they pass by the pew that Curtis and Barry are sitting in, while Barry tries not to laugh too loud. In the last panel, while Curtis is laughing over his ladies' hat jokes, Barry will typically warn Curtis about big trouble coming to him if they ever heard him make insulting jokes about their hats (ironically, in one such strip, there were also two elderly men who mock the women's hats in exactly the same manner as Curtis and Barry do, causing Barry to worry even more as to what they might end up as).
- In another recurring theme, Diane would have a dish made for either dinner or a bake sale at church place on the table in front of Curtis. She turns away for one second only to turn back and find Curtis eating up everything at an amazingly fast rate. The last panel features Curtis sitting in his room after being punished for eating the whole dish Diane made for either everyone at dinner or the church bake sale.
- One recurring theme always involves Curtis and someone else (often his brother) entering some establishment with a name like "The Don King School of Personal Etiquette" or "The Mike Tyson Institute of Good Mannerism", then finding out it's really a music store. Curtis explains that "it's really my favorite record store in disguise" and that "the locals torch the place once they find out its real identity", apparently due to the type of music it sells (usually rap music featuring an artist with a rap sheet). This theme has been featured less since the advent of iTunes.
- The skits often show Curtis (and often Barry for mere association) being disciplined for his various antics by either his mom or dad. However, they never show the actual punishment as it takes place, but the final frame of a strip where discipline is administered will show stars and such showing where the punishment was administered.
- Another recurring theme is the first day of school strip where the reader sees the city in the first panel. Then, the next two panels of the view brings the reader to where Curtis lives. The first three strips warn the reader about something that very disturbing is happening at this time of the morning, whether it is a skirmish or some other type of war. After being warned about what's to come in the third panel, the reader will then be taken to the last panel where the actual event takes place—Diane forcing Curtis to get out of bed to get ready for school while Curtis would rather stay in bed and sleep away.
- Dean Mullaney, Bruce Canwell and Brian Walker, King of the Comics : One Hundred Years of King Features Syndicate. San Diego : IDW Publishing, 2015. ISBN 9781631403736 (p. 259)
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). May 25, 2010, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). April 11, 2020, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). June 17, 2020, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX). March 1, 2014, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). July 6, 2016, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). June 4, 2017, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). November 16, 2014, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). June 15, 2016, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). June 18, 2016, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). April 18, 2017, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). April 21, 2017, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). April 27, 2017, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). February 5, 2008, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). September 13, 2004, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). September 19, 2005, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). September 11, 2006, King Features.
- Ray Billingsley (c). Curtis. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA). September 3, 2007, King Features.